Who I Am

Mac and cheese.jpgToday’s reflection is on the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday February 24, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

There was a popular country song a while back by Jessica Andrews titled, Who I Am. The lyrics go like this, “I am Rosemary’s granddaughter, The spitting image of my father, And when the day is done, My momma’s still my biggest fan. Sometimes I’m clueless and I’m clumsy, But I’ve got friends that love me, And they know just where I stand, It’s all a part of me and that’s who I am.” So, the song Who I Am, is who she is.

The question I have for you today is, “Who are you?” For a long time I thought, “I am a dad, a husband, wrestler, a coach, a writer, a teacher, a son, a school administrator, a Marine, a preacher, and maybe some day a Deacon–like our good Deacon Edwin.” How we answer that question, Who I Am, changes everything.

When my son, Mark, was only three we had a dog, and Mark used to watch him eat out of the dog bowl. One evening at dinner Mark just slams his face into a bowl of macaroni and cheese and starts chowing down! I said, “Mark! What in the world are you doing!” He raises his face up, all covered in macaroni and cheese, and says, “Arf! Arf! I’m a dog!”

Trying hard not to laugh, I said, “Son, you are NOT a dog! You are a boy! You have hands and arms and fingers! Now wipe off your face, pick up your spoon and eat like a boy!” It is entirely normal for a dog to eat right out of the bowl, but as a human, it is beneath our dignity! We have greater ability, greater minds, more tools, and we should act accordingly.

In the Gospel last week, Jesus told his disciples that they are blessed! We cling to him and conquer the world! In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples how that conquest occurs–not by anger and violence, but by love, respect, and prayer even for those who are counted among our worst enemies.

Jesus instructed his disciples, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well.” How can Jesus possibly command us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us and even pray for those who do us harm?! This seems like a bad joke, right? Certainly he ends with, “Psyche! Haha! Gotcha!” right? What Jesus is asking is NOT normal and it’s NOT natural–but last week provides the key.

I am blessed! I am NOT normal! I am NOT natural. And neither are you! Jesus expects the supernatural when we deal with others because supernatural is what we have become in Christ Jesus! I am a child of God most high created by love for love! We have the Spirit of the living God within us!

I am Jesus’ brother and no longer a slave to sin and death, but an heir of the riches of the Kingdom of my God and Father. THAT is who I am! That is who we are! A priest, a prophet, a king, a child of God, living in the freedom that has been won for us in Christ Jesus our Lord! That is my truest identity! How about you?

God is Love–that is foundational to WHO we are; a child of love who wrestles, a child of love who coaches, a child of love who writes, a child of love who has children, a child of love who may someday deacons. And yes, for you, a child of love who is incarcerated.

Because of who we are, Love is what we do. St John tells us, “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1JN 4:18-21)

That’s how we can love even those who are our enemies! That’s why we pray for them, want what’s best for them, want their conversion and blessing. Not because of who THEY are or what THEY have done, but because of who we are and what we have become.

That’s the example of David who refused to kill King Saul in today’s first reading! Saul was trying to kill David, but David stayed true to who he was–an honorable man of God. And an honorable man of God does not kill those whom God has chosen to lead! What King Saul was, or what King Saul did, is on King Saul–and God will judge him for it. But who Saul was did not change who David was.

My brothers, there are too many of us who don’t know who we are! We are acting natural instead of supernatural! Too many of us have macaroni all over our face! We’re living like dogs and acting like dogs. Stand up! Know your great dignity. Stand up! Know your great worth. Stand up! Know you are blessed, and that within you lies the power to change who you are, how you treat others, and to change the the world!

That is who I am and that’s what I do. Join me.

For reflection:

In what ways, personal, marital, or professional Am I living beneath my dignity?

Do I more readily identify myself in worldly language or as a child of God?

Who do I need to love, forgive, or pray for today, that my enemy might be blessed?

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Never Easy. Never Alone.

Today’s reflection is on the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday February 17, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.
In one my favorite parts of the movie, The Princess Bride, Princess Buttercup is taken captive by the Dread Pirate Roberts, and she’s lamenting how hard it was for her when her true love, Wesley, had himself been taken captive and killed. She complains how much it pained her to know her true love had died–to which he unsympathetically replies, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
Indeed, life is pain. And I found it to be quite true that, “Anyone who says differently is selling something.” It seems like every time I try to deny the truth that life is difficult and often unfair; every time I try and “cheat” that truth of life; every time I try to take a short cut that promises to make life a little less painful, and a little more fun, it seems that I end up worse off afterward than I was at the start! All these earthly “pain killers” have a lot of side effects!
People from all around the world, over the whole existence of time, have asked the question about why life is so full of pain. Have you ever asked that question? Have you ever asked, “Why am I suffering?” or  “Why do good people suffer?” or even, “Why do I seem to be suffering more than the next guy?” Even if we don’t know exactly why suffering happens, it clearly does happen, and today’s Scripture helps to provide some insight to these questions.
First, let’s start with what we know. We know that God is love, and God takes no joy in our suffering! In fact, God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, so that all who believe in him might not die, but instead have eternal life. (JN 3:16) God is love, and Jesus came to definitively conquer sin and death, but sadly, though, sin, and sadness, and pain still exist! So, what gives?
The Catholic answer to sin and suffering is two-fold. The first problem is us. We are weak and have a tendency to choose sin, death, and the devil over virtue, life, and God. Can any of you join me in admitting that WE have been the cause of A LOT of our own suffering? Also, when I’m weak, and when I sin, I often create sadness and suffering for those close to me. Right? My kids suffer when I sin. My mom suffers when I sin. I suffered because of my dad’s sin, and depending upon how much power I have, I can create a lot of suffering for a lot of people! A lot of people want to blame God for suffering, but let’s be honest, we need to blame ourselves, our friends, or others–and not God. In fact, far from blaming him, we need to turn to him and cling to him! The psalm today said, “Blessed the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked,
nor walks in the way of sinners, nor sits in the company of the insolent, but delights in the law of the LORD and meditates on his law day and night.” Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6
If we want to suffer less, we need to take a look at who we’re hanging around! We need to stop delighting in the way of sinners, and start delighting in the law of the LORD! That is what should be on our mind day and night–not drugs, not alcohol, not money, not violence, not anger, and not destruction. We’re hanging around the wrong people, thinking and doing the wrong things, and are ourselves the cause of A LOT of suffering! Why is the world full of suffering? Because they sin…because you sin…and because I sin. I’m the reason.
The second, “problem” is the mystery of God’s creating a world in a state of journeying to ever greater perfection–and the journey isn’t over yet! Like us, just as I am growing in holiness and journeying toward greater perfection, so too the physical world. The world continues to groan and to grow, to be rejuvenated, and reborn. What we call natural “disasters” are really just the world doing what the world does–volcanoes, landslides, earthquakes, storms, and lightening. These events are not God’s punishment, but the world in motion. Just the reality of life on earth. Life is pain, highness.
We often want to be angry with God when we experience suffering and loss, but far better than being angry with God is to run to him, to cling to him, and to cry with him. Jeremiah tells us today, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose hope is the LORD. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream:
it fears not the heat when it comes; its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.” Jer 17:5-8 Jeremiah does not say that the conditions are not harsh. He does not say that there is not suffering and sadness–but that the tree rooted in God continues to bear good fruit in the midst of the heat, and drought, the trials and tribulations!
And today, in the Gospel, Jesus gives us the final answer–you are blessed. In the good times and the bad you are blessed. Jesus tells us that just because you are poor does not mean you’re not blessed–your inheritance is the Kingdom of God! You are of a royal bloodline! And just because you are hungry does not mean you’re not blessed–you will indeed be filled and your cup will overflow! And you might indeed be weeping now, but sadness is not your end–your end is in rejoicing and gladness! And if you are excluded and insulted on account of your love of sweet Jesus–well, you can count yourself in good company among the prophets and Saints of the Church!
My brothers, Jesus never promises us a rose garden. No where in Scripture are we ever promised that we will not suffer. In fact–it’s the reverse. Jesus promises us that we will experience trial, hardships, pain and suffering. He tells his disciples, “In this life you will have suffering! But take heart, for I have conquered the world.” (JN 16:33) Jesus does not promise us a rose garden, his promise is that in our darkest days, in our most difficult times, when life is at it’s worst for us–he will be there with us through it all. He will never abandon us, he will never leaves us, and if we cling tightly to him we will ultimately rejoice and be glad in heaven. Life is pain, don’t believe the lies that it is or should be otherwise. It is often painful–but take heart, our God has conquered world–and we conquer with him if only we cling to him. Hold on tightly my brothers. Amen.
For Reflection
What is my attitude about suffering? Do I see it as an opportunity to cling to God and run to him in prayer, or do I become bitter and alienate myself from God?
Do I more often sit in the company of sinners, or do I surround myself with those trying to grow in holiness, who call God their father, and seek him in prayer?
How have I been a cause of suffering for myself and others by poor decisions
By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Watch Your Mouth!

Today’s reflection is on the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday February 10, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.
Last week I said that God can use, and has used, the most unlikely of characters to bring the Good News of salvation, and the message of love to the world! Today we witness the criteria of the messenger. We see that those who call themselves Christians–disciples of the Lord, Jesus Christ must watch their mouth!
God starts with the messenger–the prophet of the Lord, who announces the good news of salvation to the all the world. First of all, what is a prophet? The word “prophet” literally means, “a mouthpiece.” Think of one of those guys who has a puppet on his knee and the puppet speaks for the guy holding it. The puppets mouth is moving, but we all know that the person holding the puppet is doing the talking! The puppet is the mouthpiece of the puppeteer. That’s a helpful way of understanding the biblical prophet. The prophet is not a teller of the future, but a teller of the promises of God and the love of God for his people! That’s a prophet, and that’s what every baptized and confirmed Christian is called to be! We are called to be God’s mouthpiece of salvation to the world.

The C.C.C. #1303 teaches that “Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace: it roots us more deeply as children of God; it unites us more firmly to Christ;…it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.”

That’s our call, to spread and defend the faith by word and deed and to boldly confess the name of Jesus. So, step one of being a prophet, is that we need to be willing to allow God to use our lips to proclaim His truth! And God’s truth is holy and pure (and often times our lips are not!) So, step one…clean up that filthy mouth! We too often use profanity, drop “F” bombs all throughout the day, use the name of our God in vein, and speak about others in unholy and disrespectful ways. We talk trash, complain, and create divisions, rivalry, pain, and sadness. The book of James calls the tongue a fire! He say, “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the image of God.” (James 3:6-10)
Growing up we often heard that, “sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us,” but you and I know that that simply isn’t true. Words do hurt. Our words can be life giving or death dealing, they can heal and raise others up, and they can create brokenness and bring others down–and we need to watch our mouth. We need to be like Isaiah, who understood that he had a filthy mouth! He said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips!” Can anyone say that with me? Can I get a witness?!” Is 6:1-2a, 3-8
Or like Peter in today’s Gospel, when we encounter the Lord, we don’t stand proud like God’s going to be so impressed with me! No, when we stand next to the God of the universe we stand bare–we stand humiliated by His greatness and generosity, and our own spiritual impoverishment and selfishness. That’s what we mean by fear of the Lord. Have you ever looked in the mirror when you get out of the shower and thought, “What’s this all about? When did I get so flabby? I’m disgusting!” Or you’re at the pool or the lake and some guy walks by that’s your age and height, but geez! the guy is rip-zilla and looks like he NEVER leaves the gym except to walk out to the pool and shame everyone else! It kinda makes us want to put our beer and cookies down and do some push-ups, right? When we stand next to another human we often realize how far we have fallen and how much we need to improve…how much more with God?
With God, we have nothing to brag about and nothing to complain about. Sometimes we’re like, “Jesus, you’re going to be so impressed! I am a Marine!” Jesus says, “Yes, that’s nice. I am God, commander of the legions of heaven. You don’t even have anything on St. Michael the archangel, tough guy.”
“But look how smart I am! I graduated college and can speak some Portuguese and, you know, a little Spanish! Que Bueno, Si?” And Jesus says, “I created all knowledge and every language. In a single moment, my Spirit gave the Apostles the ability to speak in every tongue at Pentecost.” My brothers we have nothing to brag about. No accomplishment to offer. We can’t even boast of our suffering and hardships.
You know how you get together with your buddies and start talking about whose childhood sucked the most! “I grew up poor, Jesus. I hardly ever had anything to eat and dad never paid child-support! Things have been so tough for me!” Jesus says, “I was betrayed by my friend, handed over to be scourged at the pillar, and was crucified, died, and was buried…how tough did you say your life was again?”  When we stand before God, we do not brag, we do not boast, we do not complain and feel sorry for ourselves; like Peter, when we stand before the greatness of God we fall at the knees of Jesus and say, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
The example of Isaiah that we are an unclean person living among unclean people, and of Peter that we are sinful men, give us the insight today, that God does not need our lives to have been perfect or great, but he does need us to be aware of who we are, where we’ve been, and have a real desire to change. God needs us to stop lying to ourselves about how great we are or about how bad we’ve been. God needs his people to acknowledge their sins and fall on their knees. And when this happens, if we’re willing to do this, an ember will touch our lips and we will hear, “See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” We will hear Jesus speak to our hearts; he will say, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be fisher’s of men.” And it will be so. And we will be called a prophet of the most high God, the Lord Jesus Christ. May God bless you mightily this week. Amen.
For Reflection:
Am I honest with myself and God about my weaknesses and shortcomings?
Do I boast of my accomplishments and take pride in earthly status symbols?
When others hear my words, do they hear the voice of God..a voice filled with love, goodness, and truth?
Am I willing to fall on my knees and acknowledge that I am a sinful man with unclean lips? And do I have a desire to change?
By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Don’t We Know You?

you don't know me

Today’s reflection is on the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday February 3, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

The Gospel today begins with, “And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth,” and it ends with, “When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.”

Wow! That’s quite a change in attitude toward Jesus! He went from being a hero to a zero in just a few seconds. What did Jesus say that so bothered his hearers? Jesus walks into the synagogue, opens a scroll and reads the words of the prophet Isaiah that we heard in the Alleluia today, “The Lord sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to restore sight to the blind, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” And things were good, and they loved him…until the haters started in! And as we know, haters gonna hate! Everything was so good and then from somewhere in the crowd, we hear, “Hold up! Ain’t that Joseph’s kid? What the…? I know where he’s from! He ain’t no better than us!” Yep, haters gonna hate.

Jesus was not the guy they expected to be giving them the message of salvation. Worse yet, he tells them that they’re not as special as they think they are! For some reason people just like to think that they’re special and that others are not. Jesus tells them that there were lots of widows in Israel, but Elijah (the Jewish prophet) went to a widow that wasn’t Jewish! He went outside the inner circle! And how about Elisha (another Jewish prophet)–he didn’t clean any Jewish lepers, but instead went and cleansed Naaman, the Syrian! Elijah’s words and deeds say, “God loves not just you, but them too,” and Elisha’s words and deeds say, “God loves not just you, but them too,” and Jesus’ own words and actions say, “God loves not just you, but, yes, them too.” Jesus teaches us two very important things in today’s Gospel, one is that God’s love is for everyone–and not only for a select few, and secondly, the truth of God’s great love can come from anyone–even a carpenters son.

Throughout our lives we too can have a tendency to create a special “inner circle.” Close friends are okay, but closing oneself off to others goes too far. Our God is the God of inclusivity. Our God doesn’t make the circle smaller, he opens the circle wide so that all can experience his friendship and love. No matter where we are and no matter who we’re with, if we are his we will act like him–inclusive. Ask yourself, are you more exclusive or more inclusive? Do we belong to a family that always invites the stranger in? Is there always enough no matter who you have over? I had a good friend whose mom always had refried beans in a skillet and a tortilla standing by. Nobody went hungry at her house! Everyone was always welcome! Sarah loved us and fed us and we loved her right back. How about your family? How about your circle of friends? How about your workplaces? How about this place? God is calling us to broaden our horizon and our circle today.

And what about these haters that close their ears to the message of salvation because they don’t like who it’s coming from? The fact is that some people are simply not ready to hear a message of love and light and hope and inclusivity, and they will often find any excuse not to hear the word of God and be transformed. But the truth is that God has been calling broken, sinful, sorrowful people to himself since the beginning of time. God calls the most unlikely people to share the good news of salvation–murderers, adulterers, prostitutes, cowards, and thieves. God does not call the qualified, he qualifies those whom he calls. God just needs the sinful and sorrowful to repent and receive his mercy. He wants a transformation in us–he wants us to love. That’s it. Love…period.

God is love, and love must pour forth in our lives. God loves us first and we are to love others with the love that we have received. In today’s second reading St. Paul tells the Corinthians that it doesn’t matter how “churchy” they are, if they do not have love then they just don’t get it! I love the imagery of the resounding gong! He says, “If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.” If we don’t love then it’s just a bunch of noise! We are nothing and we gain nothing if we don’t have love for those around us. In this Church, we who are gathered here, if we do all kinds of praying, receive the Eucharist, hear God’s word, but then go out that door and are mean, selfish, hurtful, and hateful…we’re no better than anyone else…we have nothing…and we gain nothing, and God can’t use us to advance his kingdom of light and love.

Today’s Gospel demands that we live differently than those who do not know Jesus. It challenges us to be lights shining in this world of darkness. It calls us to wherever we are and whomever we are with to live differently; to live lovingly. I don’t know how each of you are to love in this place, or in that place, with your family, or with your friends…but you do. You know whether your actions are good and loving, or if they’re not. You know if you have the chance to be inclusive in your time and place. Choose to love. Choose to be inclusive. Choose to advance God’s kingdom. Let God heal you and transform you…and let the haters hate.

For reflection:

In my dad-to-day, am more inclusive or exclusive?

I’m I willing to go outside of my comfort zone and invite people into my life?

Is my love genuine and good–or am I just a “resounding gong” or a “clashing symbol”?

Do I know down deep inside, that nothing that I’ve done in my life is too great for God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness?

By Deacon Stephen Valgos